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Ultimate Guide to Wine Carafes And Decanters

When it comes to the art of pouring wine, wine carafes and decanters are great tools to have in your arsenal.

Instead of serving wine straight from the bottle, consider using a decanter to allow oxygen to flow through the wine thereby, unlocking its enriching taste. Most importantly, decanting separates the unpleasent sediments from the precious liquid.

This article will help you decide if you need one, the different types available, what to look for when buying one, how to decant a variety of wines and more.

Do You Really Need A Decanter? What Is Wine Decanter?

A wine decanter is a glass or crystal container that you pour wine into before transferring it into your wine glass for drinking.

It allows your wine to breathe, which means it helps expose the wine to oxygen, which in turn unlocks its aromas and flavors. Decanting allows the wine to softens the tannins and texture allowing its subtle nuances to shine through.

A lot of people consider them as devices for red wines but using a decanter is more about the age and structure of the wine. Casual wine drinkers may not think so much about buying one.

But what if you would love to improve your wine drinking experience? Or perhaps, you have wine that has been sitting in a bottle for a long time? The reality is that any wine would benefit from decanting.  There are two main things decanting wine would achieve:

  • Aerate the wine: As you pour the trapped wine into the decanter, oxygen is introduced to it. Therefore, this aeration process ignites wine oxidation introducing new aromas and taste notes that would have remained hidden. This oxidation also gets rid of any bitterness in the wine’s flavor and smoothens the tannins. Younger wines typically have carbon dioxide as the main preservation element. When you decant, the exposure to oxygen gets rid of the carbon dioxide.
  • Removes sediments: Wine may contain sediments, especially if it’s an older red vintage. This sediment would not harm you in any way but can affect the wine’s aroma and taste. Decanting will separate the sediments from the liquid leaving behind a clear and vibrant wine.
Glass decanter for red wines

Wine decanters versus wine aerators

If you have heard of wine aerators, there might be some confusion as to why you need a wine decanter. The reality is that wine decanters allow for a longer and gentler decanting process. This gentler process makes them the best choice for older wines.

Wine Carafes versus wine decanters

Most people consider wine decanters and carafes as meaning the same thing.  Both are similar devices with almost the same functions. However, their difference is more about their shape.

A decanter comes with a wide base (up to 30 cm) and a long neck that helps aerate the wine. In contrast, a carafe is a cylindrical container with a smaller breathing area and shorter neck.

Difference between wine carafes and wine decanters

They both can be used to serve wine, however, carafes are usually used in serving other beverages as well, such as juice and water. Decanters instead are used for wine only, with the main purpose of aereating the wine.

Traditionally, decanters may come with stoppers as you could also use them for port, sherry, scotch, bourbon, cognac, or whiskey as well as wine. Carafes usually don’t have stoppers.

Types of Wine Decanters

You can find them in a wide variety of shapes. Contemporary ones usually have eye-catching contortionist-like shapes. 

Here are the eight most common types to choose from:

1.    Standard wine decanters

They come with a tapered neck and the classic circular wide base. You can also find some standard ones with an angled spout for easy pouring.

They offer a superb balance between aeration and sediment separation and are perfect for both white and red wines. You will also love that they are an excellent choice for both amateur wine lovers and experts. The size will also influence its use. The smaller ones are great for light-bodied reds and white wines. The larger version works best for big bold reds.

Our picks:

2.    Swan-shaped wine decanters

They usually have a large base but are forged to form a U-shaped container. This piece would have two spouts, one narrow and another wide. The narrow spout may have a slight S-shape for easy gripping and pouring. But you can use both ends as a spout and handle.

It’s better to decant wine using the wide end. The wide base also enables the wine to absorb oxygen and at the same time allowing the sediment to settle at the bottom.

At serving time, you can pour the wine using the thinner side which also allows more oxygen into your wine as you pour. Swan types are excellent for bold wines that require sediment separation and aeration.

Our picks:

3.    Snail-shaped wine decanters

They resemble a squat bowl with a tipping side. They usually have a tapered opening at the top. They sometimes come with a cork stopper. It is ideal for light-bodied red and white wines.

Our picks:

4.    Duck-shaped decanters

They are quite similar to the snail-shaped wine decanter with a squat bowl. However, it resembles a duck and is quite a decorative piece. It is ideal for dinner parties and sediment-heavy wines. This decanter also comes with a glass handle that makes it easy to pour your wine.

5.    Cornetto decanters

They come with a narrow base and a long slightly curved neck.  The long neck makes it easier to aerate your wine while the sediment separates and settles at the base easily. It is excellent for fragile wines because the narrow base does not allow too much oxygen at a time.

6.    Electric wine decanters

Electric decanters are excellent tools that speed up your wine’s decanting time by pushing air through the wine. They usually have a powerful base and would pass the air into it through a narrow tube. Some also come with a mobile app which allows to control the wine’s decanting process for the best results. Hand washing is the best way to clean them.

How To Choose The Best Wine Decanter

When choosing a wine decanter, factors such as size, shape, type, materials, and other add-ons may influence your preferred option.

1.    Size

Generally, you can choose between small, medium, and large ones.

  • Small; ideal for decanting up to two glasses of wine. They are also suitable for lighter-bodied (or small-bodied) red wines. A good example is Pinot Noir.
  • Medium: This is the standard size and suitable for decanting up to one standard bottle of wine. They are also excellent for medium-bodied reds.
  • Large: These are excellent for decanting more than a bottle of wine. However, you shouldn’t have more than 1 – 1.5 liters of wine in it at a time. Too much wine inside the decanter means aeration may not be effective. They are also excellent for decanting full-bodied and younger wines.

2.    Shape and style of decanter

As we mentioned earlier, they can be U-shaped, S-shaped, standard shaped, and more. You need to choose according to the amount of surface your wine requires. You can also consider one that provides a good grip to increase comfort and prevent spills. You can also think of what would go best with your taste and surrounding decor when choosing the style and shape.

Different shapes and styles of wine decanters

3.    Type of material

They are usually made of glass. Standard glass carafes come with thick walls and are found in simple classic shapes. We recommend one made from borosilicate glass because it is more resistant to thermal shock. Regardless, your standard glass wine decanter should be dishwasher safe.

In contrast, higher-quality wine carafes are made of crystal glass. They are highly durable, and you can find them in artistic shapes. Crystal wine decanters may also have some amount of lead but this isn’t usually dangerous as long as your wine does not spend too long in the vessel.  Nevertheless, you can choose lead-free crystal glass decanters, but these tend to be more fragile.

4.    Cleaning

It is important to choose ones that are easy to clean. The majority need hand washing, but you can also find some designs that are dishwasher safe.

5.    Functionality

Many wine carafes in the market can be used for different wine styles. Be sure to carefully check the accompanying instructions to ensure you have the best one suitable for your wine styles and taste. You can also consider buying one that comes with an attached strainer which can also catch any sediment easily. They are the best choice for aged wine.

6.    Aesthetics

Aesthetics also play an important role when choosing the best wine decanter. Usually, you want one that is just as beautiful and practical. You should pay attention to how you will clean it. It is not always ideal to choose a decanter with a narrow spout or hard-to-reach areas. Also, ensure to choose one with a stopper or cork so that your wine does not get exposed to air for too long.

How To Use A Wine Decanter

Decanting wine is much more than just pouring wine from the bottle into the decanter.

When decanting, you need to pour the wine slowly so that it hits the sides of the glass. This enables as much contact with surface area as possible thereby, increasing oxygen exposure to the wine. You can also swirl the decanter gently by the neck to further increase aeration.  There are a few more subtleties that can add to your technique and improve results.

Technique 1 – Best for older or aged wines

  • Before decanting an aged bottle of red wine, allow the bottle to stand upright for 24 hours. This allows sediments to settle to the bottom of the bottle.
  • Next, prepare your wine glass, wine carafe, or decanter and open the bottle.
  • Pour the wine gently into the decanter at a 45-degree angle. This makes it easier for the wine to hit the sides of the glass.
  • Hold a candle or flashlight under the neck of the bottle, this helps you see the sediments easily.
  • Once you see the sediments at the neck, stop pouring. These sediments look cloudy or like specks of dust.
  • Now gently swirl the decanter and further aerate and set aside.
  • Once aerated, you can pour from the decanter into your wine glass.

Technique 2 – Best for young and inexpensive wines

Inexpensive young wine may not contain any sediment. You can speed up the aeration and oxidation process using shock decanting. Here are the steps to take;

  • Pour a little wine into the wine decanter.
  • Re-cork the bottle and shake well. This speeds the aeration process.
  • Now pour the rest of the wine into the decanter and wait for another 20 minutes before serving.
How to use a wine decanter

How Long Does It Take To Decant Wine?

Decanting requires anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours. But your wine style will influence the amount of time to decant that wine.

Here is a general guide to follow:

  • Full-bodied wines: Full-bodied wines usually take about one to two hours. Examples include Pinotage, Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet, etc.
  • Older wine vintages: This requires about 2 hours to decant properly.
  • Sparkling wines: Sparkling wines require about 15 to 30 minutes to decant.
  • Medium-bodied red wines: This requires about 30 to 60 minutes to decant. Examples include Merlot, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Franc.
  • Light-bodied red wines:  This requires about 20 to 30 minutes. Examples include Gamay, Schiava, and Pinot Noir.
  • White wine and rose wines: These wine types require about 15 to 20 minutes to decant. Examples include White Burgundy, Sauternes, and Chenin Blanc.

How Long Can You Leave Wine In A Decanter?

Generally, you can leave wine in a decanter with an airtight stopper for up to three days. Do remember, that you shouldn’t leave your wine for this long if you are using a crystal glass one that has some lead in it. After three days, your wine starts receiving too much air and can become stale.

How To Clean A Decanter

Flushing water through your wine decanter is not the ideal way to clean it. No matter how much water you use, there will still be visible deposits over time.

To clean it, you can use a wooden spoon to push a non-metallic scrubby sponge down the neck and around the bottom of the decanter. Alternatively, a cleaning brush brings more convenience and cleaning power.

A decanter cleaning brush is usually a large pipe cleaner with a handle. This is excellent for decanters that have narrow, artistically-styled sides.

Another cleaning tool you may consider is decanter cleaning beads. These beads do a decent job of cleaning tight spaces.  Also, towel down using a polishing cloth.  For drying your decanter, you can use a decanter dryer. Alternatively, you can line a big mixing bowl with a drying towel and then rest the decanter upside within the bowl.

Steps and tricks to clean your decanter:

  • Washing straight after use may only require water. We recommend using distilled water because water with too much hardness may cause cloudiness and leave a distinct aroma behind.
  • Avoid using dishwashing detergent or soap inside your piece to avoid leaving behind deposits. If you use soap, choose fragrance-free soap.
  • After several bottles of wine at a dinner party, rinse your decanter and then upend a bottle of carbonated water into the decanter to sit overnight. Rinse out in the morning when your hand is steadier.
  • Avoid putting vinegar to eliminate the deposits, especially if it is a crystal glass one.
How to clean a wine decanter

Concluding Thoughts

Whether you are drinking an aged wine or an inexpensive bottle, wine decanters are awesome purchases. Drinking that bottle of wine after aerating will transform even the most boring wines into a tantalizing experience. You don’t also have to be a seasoned sommelier to use a decanter. With the handy tips and tricks in this guide, you can start decanting your wine flawlessly and enjoying a better wine-drinking adventure.

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